After my aunt Sanjuanita Martínez-Hunter passed away, I helped my mother sort through all her personal possessions. Among her boxes of paperwork, I found a collection of manila folders with the words Alura Flores de Angeles scribbled on top. Thrilled, I opened each folder and in it were slides, pictures, brochures, press releases, newspaper clipping all documenting Flores de Angeles’ many visits to the University of Texas at Austin in which she displayed her costume collection, conducted dance workshops, and lectured on Mexican folkloric dance. Among my aunt’s paperwork, I also found copies of articles on Mexican Dance written by Flores de Angeles from 1934 to 1935 for Real Mexico magazine.
Alura Flores de Angeles (1905-2000) earned a degree in physical education at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) during a time when few people much less women attended college. She was known for her poetic recitation having performed at nearly every theatre in Mexico City. Yet, she was especially known as a teacher of Mexican folkloric dance having taught at UNAM for over fifty years. Few realize that she was also an author. This month I share an excerpt from an article as written by Alura Flores de Angeles for Real Mexico in the December 1934/ January 1935 issue which I found in my aunt’s collection.
Las Canacuas (Michoacán Dance)
We are now going to study some of the dances of the State of Michoacán. Michoacán is situated in the southwestern part of Mexico, and is one of the richest and most interesting states in the Republic. The most important and best known of the Michoacán dances are: La Danza de las Canacuas (The Dance of the Crowns), which is a women’s dance and is very beautiful.
Las Canacuas are danced on the Fiestas de las Coronas (Fiestas of the Crown) which are celebrated several times throughout year, particularly on certain market days when large crowds of visitors from far and near are attracted to the town where the fiestas are being held. Uruapan is the town where Las Canacuas are danced most often, and many people come from the towns nearby such as Huecorio, Janitzio, Jarácuaro, Santa Fe and others. Now that the pretty town of Uruapan is becoming so popular as a resort with Mexicans and visitors alike doubtless many more persons each year will have the opportunity of witnessing the dancing of Las Canacuas as well as the other Michoacán dances.
There is a graceful little ceremony connected with the dance. Presents are offered to the assembly of visitors such as flowers, fruits, and small toys and curios. The state of Michoacán is famous for its flowers and fruits and indeed its lush soil will produced anything. The state also excels in the manufacture of attractive and ingenious arts and crafts. Among the most notable of these are the jicaras, which are trays peculiar to Michoacán and are famous all over Mexico. They are hand painted with birds, flowers, and other dainty or fanciful motifs. The jicara is used in the dance of Las Canacuas.
The girls of the dance and there may lie any number of them, are known as Michoacánas (Michoacan girls). They enter in a single file. Each has her jicara on her head and all carry small bouquets of flowers and fruits as well as small toys and curios. These are for presentation to the priests. The flowers presented are small yellow flowers indigenous to Mexico. They are called here flores del corazón (flowers of the heart). Small bouquets of these flowers are arranged with dried corn husk and a bunch is presented to each guest. The significance of this charming custom is to welcome. The michoacánas dance and sing and they hand round the bouquets. The words of the songs are often very naïve.
The costume worn by the Michoacánas is beautiful and very vivid. The blouse called a huanengo is of fine, white handwork and is embroidered with fancy patterns in bright wool. The skirt is also of wool, usually of navy blue wool. At the bottom of the skirt is a rather wide border of the same material as the blouse. This can also be embroidered with wool or fancy patterns and figures may be appliqued on it. The waistline of the skirt is gathered and a band is wound a coupled of time about the waist and tied at either side.
The Michoacána also wears a shawl around the head. It hangs down her back below her waist. She wears jewelry, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings, usually of coral. She has her hair arranged in two long braids and sometimes she entwines ribbons in her braids.
The dance consists of graceful moving and turns and the tapping of the feet on the ground. It is charming, picturesque, and beautiful. Usually the dance of Las Canacuas is prolonged to include the dancing of the Jarabe Michoacáno. This dance is quite different from the Jarabe Tapatío, the national dance of Mexico. Its procedure is thus: the girls place their jicaras down and seat themselves on the floor; they clap their hands; a man enters; he selects one girl from the group and dances the Jarabe Michaoacáno with her. This dance consists of a continued beating of the feet, turns, etc. It too is very attractive.
Let’s remember that Flores de Angeles wrote this article in the 1930s. She describes Uruapan as just beginning to be discovered by tourists. Her writings reveal the ceremonial and social aspects of Las Canacuas and not necessarily a dance performed on stage with a set sequence of steps or movements. Amongst my aunt’s belongings, I also found a series of pictures of Alura Flores de Angeles’ costume collection. I am thinking about compiling all these archival photographs to write my new book project. This book would include full color photos of this costume collection plus other archival sources. What do you think about this project?
Flores Barnes, Alura. 1934. The Dances of Mexico: Las Canacuas (Michoacán Dance). Real Mexico 12, no. 1. (December/January): n.p.
___.___. 50 Veranos: Alura Flores de Angeles. N.d. Dance program. Society of Folk Dance Historians Collection, Austin.
—.—. Photograph. Society of Folk Dance Historians Collection, Austin.